Popular Chinese shopping app Xiaohongshu has seen its software banished from app stores and its social media accounts crimped, a few hours after issuing a controversial post on June 4th that asked, “Tell me loudly, what is the date today?”
One answer to that question is that June 4th is the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, an event Beijing prefers not to discuss — online or in the real world. Friday June 4th 2021 was also just another Friday and therefore the last day of the working week, an occasion that Xiaohongshu often marks by posing weekend-oriented questions on social media.
Xiaohongshu's post to Weibo, China's Twitter analog, was quickly removed, but first caught the eye of government internet watchdog The Cyberspace Administration of China, which reportedly started an investigation into Xiaohongshu. According to The Wall Street Journal, Xiaohongshu denies its post was political.
That's a plausible argument given that discussing the the events of 1989 is not the done thing inside China, and information about the suppression of pro-democracy protests is not easily available. Xiaohongshu staff may genuinely have blundered into this mess.
To understand Xiaohongshu, which translates as Little Red Book, imagine a mashup between Amazon and Instagram where mostly female Gen Z users review products and share their shopping experiences through short videos and photos. The company bills itself as an online tour guide for shoppers and operates RED Mall, on which it sells products from around the world to its Chinese user base.
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The app, backed by Chinese web giants Alibaba and Tencent, hit 100 million monthly active users in 2020. Its currently out-of-commission Weibo account had 14 million followers.
This is not the first time Beijing has acted against the e-commerce company. In 2019 it was briefly shutdown, potentially due to questionable and fake products and content flooding the site with promotions for face-lifting drugs and the use of human placentas for aesthetic purposes.
social e-commerce app Xiaohongshu/RED got taken down from major Chinese appstores yesterday pic.twitter.com/W87CFOAYbh— lotus (@lotus_ruan) July 30, 2019
In April 2021 the company was named among 34 apps China's government deemed as anti-competitive and therefore had 30 days to remedy its behaviour and prove compliance.
Xiaohongshu was rumored to be laying groundwork for an IPO in the US this year, with a value predicted to surpass $US10 billion. ®